INTERVIEW WITH RON HARPER

From Marvel's POTA Issue 4. Jan 1975

 

Before we get to the talk-talk, some brief words about Ron Harper himself. He's a tall man, over six feet, but not a huge, muscle-bound, type. He's well built, with long, sleek lines that go straight up and down. He is, of course, handsome...lots of people are in the LA cinema circuit. Oddly enough, for those of you fortunate to watch Planet of the Apes on a colour TV set, his hair isn’t as blond as it looks. It's a little browner.

He hails from
Pennsylvania, where his father worked in, a steel mill; he did his college work at Princeton University, where he passed up a fellowship at the Harvard Law School in favor of a life treading the boards. After a

couple of years with the Princeton University Players, he headed for New York City and Lee Strasberg, one of the most famous acting teachers in the United States - if not the entire world. He did some TV work and then served a term working for Uncle Sam, in the US Navy.

 

As soon as he got out of the Navy, Harper jumped back into the theatrical life with a vengeance. He did guest spots on TV shows, appeared on Broadway in Night Circus and Sweet Bird of Youth, where he served as Paul Newman's understudy. He worked on soap operas, appearing most recently in Where the Heart Is during the day while playing a supporting role every night in the Broadway comedy, 6 Rms, Riv View. As far as TV series go heís worked on Wendy and Me, 87th Precinct and a few years ago as Lt. Craig Garrison in the action/World War II series, Garrison's Gorillas.

 

He is married, very recently married, in fact, but more on that in the interview. Those are the facts, ladies and gents.

 

As for the rest of it? He's an incredibly considerate man, willing to put up with guests on the set, fans, the hassles of a long day's shooting, the persistence of reporters and freelance journalists, you name it. When you first meet the man, he gives the impression of being someone who knows, absolutely, where his head is at. He does what he does, and does it well, with no second thoughts or regrets.

 

He's a very soft-spoken man, very relaxed and he smokes a pipe. Actually, he smokes pipes (not simultaneously, you clot!) and it's not unusual to find him slouched in his Director's chair between takes, scanning his script, puffing quietly on a briar. Then again, you could just as easily find him talking motorcycles with Jim Naughton.

 

Ron Harper's a nice guy. To watch, to interview and it seems-to work with.

 

Our talk scattered itself over the whole shooting day, a bit here, a bit there, sandwiched in between takes and set ups and rehearsals. We started out, oddly enough, by talking about Marvels magazine version of PLANET OF THE APES. What the book was, how it was structured, what the thrust of our series was, and things like that. For the first couple of minutes it seemed like there was a little bit of confusion regarding who was the interviewer and who was the interviewee, but that straightened itself out soon enough.

 

He asked me how long our magazine, PLANET OF THE APES, had been in publication. I answered him and we were off and running.

 

MARVEL: Well we've had one out for about a month and a half now; we've got another one out in about two weeks... We're-doing adaptations of all five, films.

 

RH: In comic book form?

 

MARVEL: Right. And then we're also doing an original story based on life after the fifth film. With apes and. humans, living together in kind of peaceful co-existence. There's a gorilla Ku Klux Klan who want to wipe out the humans and the basic story is about a young boy and a young chimp. The human boy is framed for murder by the gorillas...

 

RH: In what period? Like where we are now, two thousand years later?

 

MARVEL: Yeah, two thousand years later. The Forbidden Zone is an A-bombed city...

 

RH: Yes.

 

MARVEL: Full of mutants. It's similar.

 

RH: Yes.

 

MARVEL: I noticed on the next stage they're setting up a BART set, San Francisco.

 

RH: Oh, yes. Yes. We use that on this show. We go into the city, I don't know if you saw that scene, but there's like an earth tremor. There's the remnants of a city that has been, of course, destroyed by the bomb and is now going through earthquake tremors. We're going back there to look ñ this girl brings in some electrical wiring and, some computer relay unit type of things - and we're going in there to look for, if we can, some sophisticated equipment...

 

MARVEL: To repair the star ship?

 

RH: To read our magnetic flight recorder and see what went wrong.

 

MARVEL: How much - as far as special effects go - do they get into?

 

RH: Really, not so much, I mean apart from putting appliances on the apes. It's really kind of a very primitive society that we landed in. There's not a great deal to do with special effects… yet. Of course, the apes carry rifles and things...

 

MARVEL: Does the first episode start with the crash?

 

RH: Yup. Three of us are in there - one of us is dead. And a human finds us, drags us out.

 

MARVEL: You crash in a lake? It's kind of a replay of the first film?

 

RH: To a certain extent. We find that we're back on Earth - he takes us to a bomb shelter that he's found and used as his own cave and has hidden. He brings us around and he has a book there. There were many books but he burnt them 'cause he couldn't read but he saved one with pictures in it. And we look at it and we see a picture of New York five hundred years after we left. So then we make a trip back to the spaceship and then we see that the chronometer records, I think, fifteen hundred years into the future before it stopped working. So, here's a little time to play with, fifteen to two thousand years.

 

MARVEL: So...

 

RH: Then they blow up the spaceship

 

MARVEL: The apes do?

 

RH: But I manage to get the flight recorder off it and that's why, if I hear there's possibly a computer around, I get very excited; because I want to run it through the computer and find out what happened. Perhaps, reverse the process.

 

MARVEL: Was your mission, starflight? I mean, did it follow the original film premise, or was it just an orbital mission?

 

RH: A star flight? Probably, that's what it was. We mention that we could be on any one of a thousand planets.

 

MARVEL: How extensively are the apes used in Planet of the Apes, a weekly series?

 

RH: They've been used a lot, so far. The show's got two forms of thrust: we have to keep moving because the gorillas are trying to catch us

 

MARVEU Do they know that you represent an advanced culture?

 

RH: Exactly. That's what they're afraid of. That we might spread the word to the rest of the humans on the planet and then they wouldn't be able to control them. They want to kill us, so that's why we keep moving from village to village. At the same time, we're looking for, hopefully, possibly, a pocket of civilization that has still retained its technology. To run the flight recorder disk through and perhaps build a spaceship.

 

MARVEL: I noticed on one of the press releases that one of the two astronauts is resigned to the situation and you're the one who's trying to get back?

 

RH: See, I'm married. I saved a photograph of my wife and son and I want to get back to them. That's why I say we can do it, get back. Pete Burke's more of a pessimist.

 

MARVEL: Did you see any of the original films?

 

RH: Y'know, I just saw the first two, about three weeks ago. They showed them to me. I saw the first and second one.

 

MARVEL: What did you think of them?

 

RH: I thought they were very –exciting, particularly the first one. I think Heston's a very good actor. It was a well-produced show, I loved that opening, the ship coming down...

 

MARVEL: The crash scene?

 

RH: Yeah. The film's very interesting. I could see where it made fifty million dollars.

 

MARVEL: How do you think the series compares to it?

 

RH: Very favorably, I think

 

MARVEL: How hard is it to sustain, you know, working in ten second, twenty-second, two minute takes; is it difficult to sustain what you're doing?

 

RH: Not too much. If you'll notice that shot after lunch where we all fell apart. It's really not too bad. Sometimes, if it's an important scene, or it has some tricky dialogue in it, I can concentrate better if I just stay on the set and don't dissipate my attention by talking to anybody. Usually they're not terribly involved scenes, but some have been very good. Last week I did this one scene - I guess about half the show takes place in this old castle between a woman, a boy and me - and its involved in some acting stuff more than just ape talk.

 

MARVEL: I notice that on "The Cure," you get involved with a young lady.

 

RH: Oh, yeah. She was originally fifteen, but now she's twenty ... You're not married, are you?

 

MARVEL: Oh no, couldn't afford it.

 

RH: I just got married, two months ago, to this girl who lives in New York. Sheíll be out Monday, in fact.

 

MARVEL: You got married almost the same time you got the show.

 

RH: That's right, June 1st, I tested for Planet - the first time - the day before the wedding, on a Friday and I said, "Y'know, you gottta be very careful about this 'cause I gotta be there for a wedding rehearsal Friday night". So they said, "we'll test you first thing in the morning; youíll be on a plane at one."

 

MARVEL: They tested you out here?

 

RH: Yeah. And I'd been out here for a couple of months and I went back to New York to get married and stay there ëtil Sally finished her contract, but anyway, the plane blew a generator so we returned to LA. I got in about three o'clock in the morning. We got married all right and went to Majorca for a week and then to tour Ireland for a week and we'd just started, it was our first day there.  We were staying in this beautiful old castle...

 

MARVEL: In Ireland, or Majorca?

 

RH: In Ireland. And I got a call from my agent that I had to come back and test again, which I didn't want to do. So, I said, "show them film from Garrison's Gorillas, anything and tell them I'm having a good time". We went on to Killarney the next day and they called back and said that they had to see me, it was just too important; they postponed the production date twice but this scene was with the other astronauts and they had to go shoot starting Monday and it was a pre-sold, expensive series and one test wasn't enough. So I said, "all right." But I said I wanted round trip for Sally and me and I want a car at the airport and I want a suite at the Hilton, and they said, "okay," They paid a lot of money for this.

 

So we flew back. We had, I think, ten days of the honeymoon; we had almost six days we were gonna stay. Sally flew here with me when I tested. We went back to New York on a Sunday; we were looking for an apartment on Monday and I got the call that I got the part, would I fly in the next morning so that Roddy and I could test with five other astronauts for Jim Naughton's part? So I tested... Roddy got into his make-up, costume; we tested I think, five or six other actors the next day. And the next morning I flew back to New York, packed up the rest of my stuff, kissed Sally good-bye, flew out, and we started shooting the next day. And that's the way it's been.

 

And then, the next weekend - which was the first week they had invited Sally to go on a publicity junket to Atlanta and then to Chicago.

 

MARVEL: For Love of Life?

 

RH: For CBS daytime. And by this time, when this was cast and we were working on it, they sent me along to Chicago and Atlanta. Different cities, so they had to switch them. I told them I wouldn't go unless they let me sleep with Sally Stark. So, they said they would ask her.

 

MARVEL: No problem, I hope?

 

RH: No.

 

MARVEL: I see there's a computer set next door.

 

RH: We used that last week. We finally found an area down in the subway station that had a panel that we exposed and there was a projector-type thing and a voice on it saying that, since the end of the world is imminent they have buried all Man's knowledge in several vaults throughout the country. A time capsule type of thing. And so, we had to rig up a battery to find out where it was.

 

MARVEL: There was a battery lying around someplace? Y'know, I think the press release said this combined the best elements of The Fugitive and a Saturday afternoon serial.

 

RH: That's pretty good, yeah. I was telling you before, we have these two thrusts: we have to keep moving, 'cause the gorillas will kill us and we might as well keep moving anyhow because we're looking for a technologically advanced society.

 

MARVEL: How does this - I remember, I used to watch Garrison's Gorillas many years ago - How does this compare as a series?

 

RH: I find it very similar. Terribly similar, especially the last two weeks, because we're shooting at MGM's back lot #2, which is what we used a great deal when we were doing Garrison's Gorillas.

 

MARVEL:The old ruined French town kind of thing.

INTERVIEW WITH RON HARPER

 

From Marvel's POTA Issue 4. Jan 1975

 

Before we get to the talk-talk, some brief words about Ron Harper himself. He's a tall man, over six feet, but not a huge, muscle-bound, type. He's well built, with long, sleek lines that go straight up and down. He is, of course, handsome...lots of people are in the LA cinema circuit. Oddly enough, for those of you fortunate to watch Planet of the Apes on a colour TV set, his hair isn’t as blond as it looks. It's a little browner.

 

He hails from Pennsylvania, where his father worked in, a steel mill; he did his college work at Princeton University, where he passed up a fellowship at the Harvard Law School in favor of a life treading the boards. After a

RH: Yes. A New York street we used and a lot of the alleys. The railroad station was shot there for about two weeks at night for the pilot, so all that area is familiar ground to me. But I find that the character of Virdon is very similar to Garrison. He's that type of a hero and it's a very physical show. We've been shooting outside a great deal.

 

MARVEL: This is such a hit and miss business, isn't it?

 

RH: You're telling me, after four series. I thought Garrison's was a very good series, it was... but that was the end of the violence thing on television. It was the last show containing a lot of violence.

 

MARVEL: A couple of years earlier, it would've made it.

 

RH: Yeah, like 87th Precinct, which was my first series, I think it was one of the best detective series that's ever been done. We shot that at Universal. A lot of people felt that we 'd gone back to New York ... it had a good feel about it. It was a good series that should have gone five years. A lot of things happened... it was a well-produced show.

MARVEL: Naked City was such a standard, for shows of that style.. It's funny, I'm a New Yorker. and  it's strange watching shows set in New York and filmed in Hollywood, like Kojak. And then, there's something about ... even when a show filmed on location in Hollywood, it doesn't look right.

 

RH: You can tell a set.

 

MARVEL: Right.

 

RH: To film New York, you really gotta be there.

 

MARVEL: There's something about being there that seems to give a lot more freedom. Have you done theatre work as well?

 

RH: Sure. I did 6 Rooms Riv View on Broadway. Did you see it?

 

MARVEL: No, I missed, it. I wanted to, though. Was that towards the end of the run?

 

RH. I did the whole thing from the beginning, on Broadway.

 

MARVEL: Oh, I kept thinking of Jerry Orbach.

 

RH: Well, he was in it and Jane Alexander - I played her husband - and then he had a wife. And that lasted about ten months. I was doing a soap at the time, too.

 

MARVEL: Do you have any preference between film, and television here, and soaps, and theatre?

 

RH: I'll tell you the truth, I like the technique of soaps. I think it is the best of two worlds because they shoot it three-camera and you rehearse all day and then you photograph. And you don't stop. So, you get the effect of really portraying a character, which builds and grows when you do a scene.

 

MARVEL: Which soap was it?

 

RH: It was called, Where the Heart Is. You don't get great scenes all the time, but every couple of weeks you really get into a good scene and a chance to act. The way I feel about it isÖ I went back to New York for three years after my last series and I wanted to do plays again and I'm glad that I did Six Rooms because I found that I don't want to do plays for that long any more. In three months, I was bored with it. I was much more interested and looking forward to the next day's shooting on Where the Heart Is than I was coming back to the Helen Hayes Theatre for the performance that night.

 

MARVEL: Because each day was different?

 

RH: Yes. I've had so much experience now in acting faster on television, that once I get a part fairly well established, I don't like to keep repeating it.

 

MARVEL: Do you ever feel that that could happen in something like this?

 

RH: Maybe. It would take a couple of years. I would think five years would be kind of boring. Three, maybe. But it's a different script every week, so that's something. I would just as soon rehearse a play as deeply as we need to - five or six weeks - get it up, do it as well as you can, photograph it and forget it. I don't like doing it, repeating it. I think there are some actors who feed on more work, on inter-reaction between; but I must say I don't - It doesn't really interest me that much. I find my own satisfaction in doing something new, so I'm not terribly interested in doing a play. Of course, that could change tomorrow if I were offered a part in That Champion Season, but even if I did it, I'd like to get out of it in three months if it was possible.

 

MARVEL: How much rehearsal do you have for each episode?

 

RH: Not very much. The only rehearsal you do is just before you shoot the scene.

 

MARVEL: So it's not even as extensive as a soap opera?

 

RH: Right. On a soap you rehearse the day before; then you come in the next morning at about seven-thirty and you rehearse all day until you shoot it at about one o'clock or two. It's a lot more rehearsal. You know what determines how much rehearsal you get on a TV show? The lighting man and the cameraman. Because the only time you rehearse is while he's lighting.

 

MARVEL: While he's setting up?

 

RH: Yeah. And if he's very fast, then you don't rehearse really well. If he's slow, you can rehearse it more.

 

MARVEL: Does it bother you doing it, essentially off the top of your head?

 

RH: No, not really. I topple at times when you get into a deep scene and we do have them occasionally, Important scenes - what'd you ask me?

 

MARVEL: The rehearsals; do you mind, not having them?

 

RH: Actually, no; not so much It's not Chekov or Shakespeare, that you really have to figure out a lot of the mysteries underneath the character. Basically I sort of know what the character is, how he would react - which is basically a matter of choices… No, it doesn't really bother me. I'd much rather err in that direction than I would of boring myself to death by doing something I already know.

 

MARVEL: So the continuity is much more up to you, because you've got a new director and a new writer coming in each episode?

 

RH: Right.

 

MARVEL: Does the standing around bother you? Just the waiting between takes?

 

RH: Yeah. That's why it's kind of fun when you're on location, because you ride horses...

 

MARVEL: Do you do your own stunts?

 

RH: Very seldom. It's ridiculous to do them. Number one, you're putting some stuntman out of work, which is not very nice because they need the work and they do it better. They make it look better. And most of the time they won't let you do your own stunts, because it's just economically ridiculous.

 

MARVEL: A lot of people still have the idea that everybody in Hollywood is very bitchy and very...

 

RH: Aloof.

 

MARVEL; The more people I meet in the business, I find that they're generally very good people.

 

RH: I find that, too. Particularly the better actors they are, I guess because they're more secure.

 

MARVEL: I dunno. I've seen some of the most paranoid people I've ever met ... you do a tour with people and after a while, you just can't stand to live with them. Especially if you're all in one house.

 

RH: I suppose you can get too paranoid too. I toured with Sweet Bird of Youth, it was my third play - the first hit - and I was understudying Paul Newman. And that was kind of exciting.

 

MARVEL: What's the longest run you've ever had, in theatre?

 

RH: I guess it was on Sweet Bird of Youth, because I was with that from the beginning.

 

MARVEL: That's interesting, because I saw an ad for a tour of Fiddler on the Roof and most of the people in it had been going for fourteen months, last time I looked. It had originally been scheduled for ten months, then it went to fourteen and they were talking about extending it to two years.

 

RH: That would kill me. There again, you're repeating the same show, but to be on the road with it for that long. That's ridiculous.

 

MARVEL: There was one man in Fiddler who opened with the original Broadway company; he stayed with it all the way through the run, seven and a half, eight years.

 

RH: No kidding. I mean, it wouldn't be so bad; and maybe that was the best employment the man could get as an actor.

 

MARVEL: And how do you walk away from something that's a gold mine?

 

RH: It's tough to do. And there's very little to do in New York, you know.

 

MARVEL: There's little to do anywhere, these days.

 

RH: I guess that's true, isn't it? A, friend of mine just came out this week, an actress, and she said her agent was coming out and I said, that's funny my agent's coming out too and I know another who’s coming out. And she said she's never seen New York as bad as it is, currently, this year. Even when I was there I didn't find that there was very much to do. I don't really see how most actors could support themselves; most actors can't, unless they're' doing soaps.

 

MARVEL: That's a weird thing about films, in that it's a line out and "Cut! Print!" I guess, in a way, you're, at the mercy of the editor.

 

RH:I just went up to loop a line - it was very strange; I've got to talk to the producer about it – and I didn't know what was the matter. It wasn't the line, you could hear it all right. And the girl said, "the editor wanted you to change the reading of it". That's the first time I've ever heard of this, that the editor wants me to change the interpretation of a line. I said "to what? I remembered the scene, there we were, this line came right out, so I don't understand what you want me to do". So, we called the editor, had the editor come down. I think he was trying to tell me that he would have liked to have heard a different reading on the line but I couldn't see any reason to justify it. I recorded the line for him and he said, "can't we just hit the last word –die – harder". I can do that, but that's very strange. I've never heard of an editor who cuts the film together, coming down to say, "I'd like you to change your interpretation". I mean, hey, wait a minute; I got a director and a writer and two producers and sixteen people at CBS who have the authority to do that.

 

MARVEL: How do you feel about working with actors wearing applications like these?

 

.RH: I didn't see Mark Lenard's face 'til last week... you really start to, identify with the role as the ape. Roddy looks very strange to me now when he's not wearing his application.

 

MARVEL: I know. I just saw him, actually taking off his make up and having seen him as an ape in five pictures, to see him as a real person...

 

RH: It's strange.

 

 

MARVEL: Because you sit there thinking, it is a mask. And yet at the same time. ...

 

RH: It almost looks like...

 

MARVEL: I’m really impressed by the physical adjustments he makes. The way he moves, the way he looks; it's very nice...

 

RH: Yes... And he can wrinkle up his forehead and his nose. He's very good, I must say… he's very good.

I was halfway into another question when one of the crew's Assistant Directors, Cheryl Downey, came over to get Ron for a pick-up scene the Director wanted filmed, a scene that unfortunately, as it turned out -he'd been waiting for all afternoon. As a matter of fact, if it hadn't been for that pick-up, he'd have finished hours before but then I wouldn't have gotten anywhere near as good an interview.

 

Ron went off to do the pick-up.

 

And that was that.